Maine Scout Leaders Help Curb Childhood Obesity

Cub Scouts snack on fruit and vegetables at a recent den meeting attended by Healthy Kids Out of School.

Maine Scout Leaders Help Curb Childhood Obesity

June 04, 2014

Earn the SCOUTStrong Healthy Unit Patch by Drinking Right, Snacking Smart, and Moving More

(June 4, 2014) BANGOR, ME - Obesity affects 17% (12.5 million) of all children and adolescents in the United States. In Maine, nearly one-third (28.2%) of children are considered either overweight or obese.  A study published by the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that as a result of this epidemic, children today may have a shorter life expectancy than that of their parents.

To address this issue, Healthy Kids Out of School, an initiative of ChildObesity180 at Tufts University in Boston, is working with organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America to promote three healthy habits: drinking water instead of sugary beverages, snacking on fruits and vegetables, and adding physical activity to meetings and events.

Last year, Healthy Kids Out of School collaborated with Boy Scout troops in New England to develop and launch the SCOUTStrong Healthy Unit Patch. Today, Scouts in Maine and around the country can earn the patch by serving water and healthy snacks at their meetings, and offering at least 15 minutes of physical activity.

Through its Growing Up Healthy initiative, the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation provides funding for Healthy Kids Out of School to work with out-of-school-time programs in the New England area. “We know that children’s success in school and beyond, as well as their overall quality of life, is closely tied to health,” says the Foundation’s president Karen Voci.  “Since 2007, we have been focusing our efforts on childhood obesity prevention and we know that the best way to improve the health of children is to improve the environments in which they spend most of their time.”

A Community Effort in Bangor

Sandy Smith is a first- year Boy Scouts Den Leader who is making a difference in the health of his Scouts.  Last fall, Smith attended a training session offered by Healthy Kids Out of School and was inspired to implement some of the ideas at his next den meeting.

Smith’s efforts went above and beyond the basic requirements for the Healthy Unit Patch. “We wanted to do more, so we surveyed the parents of the Tiger Cubs to learn if anyone had backgrounds in nutrition or physical fitness,” said Smith. “One parent is a nurse at St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor.  She did six sessions on nutrition, and then a trainer picked up the physical fitness component of the patch.”

Smith also worked with the City of Bangor to coordinate a “sledding under the stars” event, and the boys enjoyed the event so much that many of their parents were inspired to join in.

“The SCOUTStrong Healthy Unit Patch training has been enlightening for me,” said Smith. “It has inspired me to become a role model for these boys and to find creative and fun ways to instill healthier habits for my den.”  

Eating Cars in Millinocket

Another Scout leader who was inspired by the Healthy Kids Out of School training is Angela Cote of Millinocket.

Cote wanted to create a unique experience for the boys to get them more excited about eating fruits and vegetables, and encourage them to try new foods.  In coordination with the annual Pinewood Derby activity where Scouts build and race model cars, Angela led a “Fruits and Vegetables Derby,” where each Scout created a car from fresh produce to eat as a snack.  

“The Scouts absolutely loved making the [produce] derby cars,” said Cote.  “The fruits and vegetables were pre-cut, and it was interesting watching the Scouts select their cars’ components.  Many gravitated to the fruits.  I plan to incorporate more vegetables in snacks in the future.”

Cote hopes to get other den leaders and parents involved with these activities in the future.

“There’s no better time than the present to start teaching children how to eat better. There are many small, easy ways to introduce healthy foods and exercises into a child’s life.  I want our Scouts to learn how to make the right choices now so that it becomes second nature to them when they’re older.”  

Since launching the trainings in 2013, Healthy Kids Out of School has trained over 500 volunteer leaders across New England and is already seeing the impact of these efforts.  “Hundreds of Scouts have already achieved the Patch, with more requests from leaders coming in every day,” says Alyssa Koomas, Regional Project Manager for Healthy Kids Out of School. “When the Scout Leaders call in to request the patches, they share the benefits they see by making these simple, healthy changes to their meetings – the Scouts have longer attention spans, enthusiasm for trying new things, and are just having a whole lot of fun.”

Funding from the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation supported the development of a “learning laboratory” across Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire to test, develop and deliver trainings and materials to support out-of-school-time programs in adopting the Healthy Kids Out of School initiative’s three principles: Snack Smart, Drink Right and Move More.

About Healthy Kids Out of School
Healthy Kids Out of School is an initiative of ChildObesity180 at Tufts University. The initiative works with leaders around the country to promote three principles for healthy out-of-school time: Drink Right, Move More, and Snack Smart. The Healthy Kids Hub website (www.HealthyKidsHub.org) provides resources to support the implementation of these principles. Regional funding for the Healthy Kids Out of School initiative is provided by the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation with additional support from Newman’s Own Foundation.

About ChildObesity180
ChildObesity180, based at Tufts University, is an organization committed to cross-sector collaboration to reverse the trend of childhood obesity. Using an evidence-based approach and business-minded practices, ChildObesity180 is developing and carrying out innovative initiatives to prevent childhood obesity. ChildObesity180 is comprised of national leaders from the public, nonprofit, academic, and private sectors that use their reach and expertise to drive an integrated national effort. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The JPB Foundation are strategic funders. Learn more at www.ChildObesity180.org

Media Contact:
Jeff Landis
(978) 778-8711